Channeling a Health Message

This article accompanies Health Partners.

Saturday, June 2, 2012
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Four years ago, healthcare costs at communications giant Comcast Corp. were rising rapidly -- so fast, in fact, that Executive Vice President of HR Bill Strahan was concerned that the finance division would insist on a 10-percent cost reduction for the following year.

"We knew there was no way we could reduce costs by that much without taking some draconian steps," he says. "So we decided to see if we could encourage some behavioral changes."

The Philadelphia-based company wanted its employees to take better care of themselves while being more-judicious users of their healthcare benefits. It turned to a service that provides "personal health assistants" who help employees determine what's covered by their health plan, whether they should see a specialist and to take better care of themselves by remembering to schedule follow-up appointments and take their medications as-needed.

The service, provided by Plymouth Meeting, Pa.-based Accolade, has helped lead to an 8-percent reduction in healthcare costs at Comcast. Strahan is careful to note, however, that it has not led employees to cut back on utilizing their benefits.

"We're spending more on primary care than in the past and more on prescription benefits, but our hospital readmission costs are way down," he says. "We're fine with our prescription costs going up because it means employees are being more compliant."

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Strahan says he's particularly impressed by the "whole person" approach taken by the Accolade PHAs, who have access to employees' health histories.

"An employee might call with an adjudication question and the PHA can ask them 'By the way, we've noticed you've stopped refilling your blood-pressure medication -- why?' " he says.

Getting Comcast's 100,000 employees comfortable with this level of interaction required "lots of communication and change management," says Strahan, but the results have been worth it, he adds.

"By getting employees the right care the first time, we are spending a lot less on healthcare," he says.

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